annual fund

Donor Stories

The “Family Expectation” of Planned GivingGeorge and Sandy Wetzel ’72 
    Mark and Becky ’90 Schersten describe their decision to create an endowed scholarship at Siena Heights University through an estate gift as a “family expectation.”
    “It was just always expected that you give back to that school that served you so well,” said Mark, whose grandfather was a faculty member at Augustana College, where he and many of his family members attended. “I figured
that Siena has done for me what Augustana did for so many other members of my family.”
    The longtime philosophy faculty member is retiring as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in May 2016 after more than 30 years at Siena Heights University. He said he’s seen first-hand how scholarships have impacted students’ lives.
    “I’ve seen so many students who would never have made it at Siena, or anywhere else, without the help,” he said.
Becky, who completed her master’s degree at Siena Heights, agreed.
    “Wasting an opportunity for someone to get a liberal arts education is just a tragedy,” she said. “For Mark to have been as involved as he has been all these years, I’ve been really proud to be beside him in educating students who need the opportunity for that education. Siena is such a great institution for taking that extra step to reach out.”
    The Mark and Rebecca ’90 Schersten Endowed Scholarship, once realized, will create and endow a scholarship that will reward qualified students in the humanities, an area Mark said students don’t often consider in their career plans.
    “It’s those areas in the humanities that people don’t think about majoring in, but that really can bode well for their future lives,” he said. “The scholarship is a way of making sure students still realize that majoring in some of those classical liberal arts areas of the humanities is going to be worth their while.”
    The Scherstens said the planned giving process was also a beneficial one for their own estate preparation.
    “The benefit of planned giving is that it forces you to do something that you probably haven’t done but should have done decades ago,” Mark said. “And I did want to establish something that would have some lasting impact.”

Fred Smith Continues to Enhance Siena HeightsGeorge and Sandy Wetzel ’72 
   Fred Smith’s name has been affiliated with Siena Heights University for nearly 40 years. The hall-of-fame coach and current SHU athletic director has already made an indelible mark on the university in so many ways. Starting as an admissions officer and part-time coach, and eventually working his way up to head men’s basketball coach and athletic director, SHU even named the basketball court in his honor for his contributions to the university.
   Recently, Smith made a contribution that will keep the family name at Siena Heights for generations to come: He made Siena a beneficiary in his estate plans to create the Clifford and Jeannette Smith Endowed Scholarship. Once realized, this scholarship named in honor of his late parents will provide financial assistance to a first-generation student in need.
   “I’ve spent most of my adult life at Siena Heights,” said Smith, the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach, who was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 2006. “I love Siena, and I’ve tried to give a little here and there. I thought
it would be nice to leave an amount to the university in my parents’ names. This school has given so much to so many, and obviously to me.”
   Smith said he reworked some of his retirement and estate affairs that will eventually fund the scholarship. He encourages others to do the same, and said an endowed scholarship was a great way to give back to an institution that is near and dear to him.
“I believe in Siena Heights,” he said. “I thought it would be a good way to give back. I just wish I could do more.”

Q&A with Mary Phillips ’71George and Sandy Wetzel ’72 
   Q: What drew you to Siena Heights University, and can you tell us some fond memories of your time on campus?
   A: My great-aunt was an Adrian Dominican, and so my parents were impressed with Siena Heights and encouraged me to consider it as an option. As I had always been interested in both art and sewing, I visited both the Art and Home Economics departments during my high school senior year visit to campus. It was the smell of the oils and the ambience of the old Studio Angelico on the fifth floor of Sacred Heart Hall that drew me in to the Art Department. I consider that a serendipitous and pivotal decision in my life! It was there I met Sister Jeannine Klemm and Sister George Patrice (Sister Barb Chenicek), both so inspirational and talented, and immediately I was hooked!
Q: Tell us a little about your life and career path after graduation.
   A: In what I appreciate to be the remarkable Siena “way,” the day after graduation a small group of Siena students and I, under the inspiration of Sister Carmelia O’Connor, went to work in Appalachia. It was the perfect transition from my Siena experience to my future. Following that, I was so fortunate to become one of Siena’s first two admissions counselors. Siena had given so much to me; it was a pleasure to spread its message.
   And it was upon the recommendation of Sister Jeannine Klemm that I chose to do my graduate work at Northern Illinois University and plot my career path in both studio art and art history. Additionally, and most importantly, I was so fortunate to be asked to be co-director of the Studio Angelico Semester in Florence Program twice with Sister Jean Agnes Klemm (1979 and 1987), both pivotal experiences for me as an artist and as a professor of art and art history.
Subsequently, I served as a professor of art and art history at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, for many years, and currently serve as Curator of College Art Collections at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois.
Q: What is the biggest impact Siena has had on your life?
   A: Along with all of the above experiences, the personal connections with such inspirational people and the making of dear friends at Siena are what I value most.
Q: What is the impact you hope to accomplish with your gift?
   A: It is our hope that our contribution will in some way allow the legacy of Studio Angelico and its distinguished faculty and appreciative alumni to continue and flourish.
   Q: Why did you choose to create the Mary E. Phillips ’71 and John Richard Sayre Scholarship, and what advice would you give to others about creating an endowed scholarship through a legacy gift?
   A: As Siena has been such a treasured part of my life, my husband (Sayre) and I wanted to do what we can to continue the Siena legacy. I would encourage others who have benefitted from Siena Heights to consider leaving a legacy gift. Future students will also be able to benefit from all that Siena has to offer!.”

George and Sandy Wetzel ’72George and Sandy Wetzel ’72 
    George and Sandy (Bastian) Wetzel ’72 consider themselves products of Catholic higher education. Both valued their educational experiences so much that they recently created endowed scholarships at each of their alma maters. The Edith and Virgil Bastian Endowed Scholarship – named for Sandy’s parents – will help fund students for generations to come at Siena Heights University. Sandy and George also included Siena in their estate plans to further increase the impact of the scholarship.
    “Siena gave me the opportunity to appreciate my own talents,” said Sandy, who entered the Adrian Dominican order after graduating from high school and taught English and music for several years while completing her college degree. “It encouraged me to always strive for something better. That was my challenge, to always strive to the next level.”
    She decided to leave the order and eventually met and married her husband, George, who was completing his degree as a nontraditional student at Madonna University. After both recently retired from their jobs, they wanted to “give something back” to the Catholic institutions that had such a profound effect on their lives.
    “We decided we would get the scholarships funded now,” said George, who also created an endowed scholarship in his parents’ names at his alma mater. “The two (scholarships) we hope will help a lot more young students get a Catholic education. Students who have a Catholic education have those values. We need more people in the world today who have those values.”
    Sandy, who remembers fondly her days of walking through Sacred Heart and Walsh halls, said Siena Heights helped her achieve her goals throughout her professional career. Starting her career as a teacher, she eventually successfully transitioned to the business world.
    “The teachers I found (at Siena Heights) were not just teachers, they were mentors,” Sandy said of her Siena Heights education. “They always challenged me. That carried me right on through my career. Always striving for the next level. Don’t be comfortable with where you are.”
    Sandy said she and her husband will enjoy watching the fruits of their scholarship dollars at work, and they also have great joy in knowing that their estate gift will add significantly to the fund.
    “I would encourage anyone who is considering this type of endowment to move on it and do it now,” said Sandy, whose scholarship is also receiving matching funds from her former employer, DTE Energy. Additionally, through their planned gift, the Wetzels have created a lasting legacy that will continue changing the lives of students for years to come. “Don’t wait until you are in your last days. Get it started now and watch it as the lives of students grow, and there will be something there that you will be so proud of. We want to see our money used for good.”

Jerry ’01 and Linda Peterson 
    As Jerry ’01 and Linda Peterson looked at approaching the end of life’s journey and thought of their estate plans, they realized priorities and family relations had changed. 
    “The focus of our estate planning turned from our immediate to a larger world,” Jerry said.
    One way they said they could benefit others would be to donate to their alma maters’ scholarship programs. 
    “We were blessed to have our families’ aid for our higher education and hope that those who are helped by our pledge to the Heritage Society will be able to brighten the future for others,” Jerry said of their contributions to Siena Heights University.
    Jerry, who completed his bachelor of applied science degree in automotive technology at SHU’s Lansing center, said education is the key to the success of future generations.
    “If the United States does not find technological advancements in medicine, telecommunications and environmental issues . . . the U.S. will become stagnant,” he said.
    Jerry said making that investment in educating future Siena Heights students is a gratifying experience.
    “Donating gives us the satisfaction of helping another student to advance in his/her chosen field,” he said. “Education is one of the very few possessions that cannot be taken away from you. It will add a new perspective on how you will view the rest of your life.”

Carl and Mary Lou Griffin 
    When Siena Heights University Trustee Emeritus Carl Griffin and his wife, Mary Lou, were recently amending their estate plan, they were looking to help a few charitable organizations whose missions were important to them. One of those organizations was Siena Heights University.
    The Griffins originally established the Carl and Mary Lou Griffin Scholarship Fund, an endowment that will generate an annual scholarship for students with need. Their most recent planned gift will eventually add to that fund to provide even more financial assistance to Siena Heights students.
    "Our planned gift will increase the impact of our scholarship – more lives will be positively changed," Carl said.
Carl said the steps to establish a planned gift were relatively simple: work with an estate planning attorney and then either draft a letter of agreement for both parties to sign or complete Siena's one-page Heritage Society form. The University staff works with many donors and would be happy to assist others through the process.
    "Be sure to work with an attorney who has a high reputation for a specialty in estate planning," Carl said. "Do not assume that everything you have should go to your descendants – as much as you love them, their thinking may not coincide with yours. An important way to give thanks to God for what you have, and have accomplished, is by making bequests that serve people you have never met but who need your help."
    Although Carl and Mary Lou are not graduates of Siena Heights, the Griffins said they have an affinity with the institution, as well as with the Adrian Dominican Sisters who founded Siena Heights.
    "We admire and respect the mission of Siena Heights, combining the spiritual foundation of a Catholic environment, the close relationship between faculty and students offered by a relatively small school and its creed of competent, purposeful and ethical," Carl said. "What we have provided for makes us feel very good."

Fulfilling Dreams 
    My grandmother taught me something about giving. 
At every birthday and holiday, starting at year one, she gave me a savings bond – often $25, maybe $50, occasionally $100. When I was old enough, I dutifully wrote thank you notes but secretly thought hers were the most boring gifts ever…until I cashed in a few for the security deposit on my first apartment. Then cashed in a few more for graduate school tuition. And then again for a saddle and bridle to use on the horse I'd bought with an income tax return.
    Then I realized the value of those "boring" presents. My grandmother had given me the means to fulfill my dreams: life in New York City, a graduate degree in journalism, the chance to be a cowgirl, at last. What amazing gifts they were in the end!
    I thought of all that a couple months ago when I joined the Siena Heights Heritage Society. That's a way to fulfill dreams, too.
    It was some time ago when I decided to include the University in my will. I took care of the will, but never told Siena Heights. To be honest, I couldn't see the need. I know it's going to happen. Why does SHU need to know?
I still sort of felt that way, but knowing how important planned giving is to any institution, I decided to make it official. So, with the "On Higher Ground" campaign nearing its end, I sat down to fill out the "confidential bequest notification form." It was easy enough – name, address, type of bequest. Possible value? I wasn't sure but made a guess.
    And then this: "Purpose of gift…" Hmm.
    Having never thought about that, I began to reflect on all my connections to Siena:
    • A 17-year sojourn in publications, alumni relations and advancement; deep friendships with faculty, alumni, staff and students; travel near and far, and so many alumni events.
    • My late husband's pride at completing his degree magna cum laude, 27 years after graduating from high school. Already a business vice president, he nonetheless savored every business class – and was thrilled to discover new horizons in film, literature and history courses. The degree did not alter his career, he said, but it changed his soul.
    • Our oldest daughter's experience – fulfilling her religious studies requirement in the months immediately after her dad's death and discovering depths in her own soul; grudgingly taking drawing to fulfill the art requirement and surprising herself with creativity; allowing her education to take her places she hadn't thought she wanted to go.
    • Our two other daughters' adventures in logic, literature, world religions and life.
    What did I want my gift to do for this University whose mission and values are now so much a part of me and my family? Fund a scholarship for non-traditional students? Support the arts or the business program? Ensure maintenance for Trinity Garden? Enrich the library? The more I thought, the more I began to dream. This was exciting! This was creative. This was personal.
    I haven't fully settled on the "purpose" of my gift but I'm glad to have joined the Heritage Society because it made me think about it. And I am still excited – because I can see that, just like those "boring" birthday bonds, a planned gift is a way to fulfill dreams.
    Siena Heights has changed my life and the lives of many in my family. Perhaps my gift will change other lives and fulfill other dreams in the future. My grandmother would approve.

A Letter from Two Faculty Members

    It was important to us that our long-term plans include healthy institutions that have a high likelihood of carrying on work that we value. We have watched Siena Heights University in that regard carefully since 2005, and talked with several people about Siena's financial history.  Siena's work today, and for the past 90 years, is especially consistent with its mission. Siena Heights has a mission that we support now and hope to for a long time in the future.
    From what we've seen (the anecdotes we hear from our colleagues in the Graduate College and College of Arts and Sciences mirror this), students in the College for Professional Studies work hard to learn the principles and practice of their profession, in an ethical environment often missing in other professional schools, in an environment rich in the Catholic and liberal arts traditions of higher education, taught by a faculty comprised of talented and well-educated and experienced professors and instructors who are supported by equally talented administrators. Our students often come from less-than-privileged circumstances and juggle demanding personal lives in the pursuit of their degrees. Supporting the University in its work over the long term with these types of students aligns with our personal reasons for teaching here.    
     The employee-donor role is a difficult one for us, especially given our background in organizational studies. We would prefer to remain anonymous as donors so that our role as faculty members is not muddied by the donor relationship to the institution. However, we were encouraged to share our story as it might be valuable to others, so here it is.  In day-to-day activities we maintain our focus as faculty-employees, leaving our role as donors to very long-term planning. We have recently established a planned gift to set up a scholarship fund. The Advancement staff was delightful to work with, very knowledgeable and helpful in the planning process. Our meetings with them helped us clarify what we wanted to do, keeping the focus on our goals. Although hard for us to believe, we have reached an age that demands planning for retirement, our future and thinking about our legacy. We view our employment at SHU as purposeful, and hope our efforts as faculty contribute to the development of our students and how they affect their families, employers and communities. Planning to establish a scholarship in our name for Siena Heights students became an important way of making a lasting, life-changing contribution. 

Letter from an Alumna

    My husband Mark and I are both graduates of small colleges: his, California Lutheran, and mine, of course, Siena Heights.
    During our almost 30 years of marriage, we have often shared our experiences growing up during the turbulent 1960s and what campus life was like for each of us: our personal struggles to fit in, to speak out, to find safe passage from our teenage years to our early 20s – all while grappling with our insecurities and the uncertainties of what the future might hold.
    While some of our experiences clearly differed, we enjoyed many of the same advantages as well: living away from home for the first time, the luxury of small class sizes, the dedication of our professors, the camaraderie with classmates and the ease of navigating our intimate campus communities. All of these and more we cherished and still do. And all were provided at a remarkably reasonable price...and still are.
    Over the years, we have witnessed the incredible growth and transformation of our colleges into universities – Siena's evolution in particular. Wow! I love all the additions to the landscape that I see every five years at our class reunion. And I so look forward to fall, when we all can walk together across the SHU Saints' football field in our bare feet! Who would have "thunk" it?!
    I take such pride in knowing that my classmates and I were part of the history that has culminated in what we see today at Siena, and I am awed by all the satellite campuses across the state and by the new undergraduate and graduate degree programs that are now available.
    None of this would have been possible without the commitment of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, the steadfastness of the faculty and staff and the generosity of all of us who want to share the Siena experience with generations to come.
    That is why I am a member of the Heritage Society. It is for all those young women and men whose names I may never know but whose lives I will touch.
    And you can, too.
    Joining the Heritage Society by naming the University as beneficiary of a planned or estate gift is a smart investment for all the right reasons. Check it out and see for yourself. And as you do, think about the words to that song we used to sing so long ago:

"Come trumpets sound the call to youth.
Come gather on the Heights of truth,
Keep Siena's valiant name!
Our Patron is a Glorious Flame."

Together, we can keep that flame burning brightly for generations to come.

Making a Connection and Making a Difference

    Judy Francoeur sees how Siena Heights University is a beacon of hope to so many students who are looking for a brighter future.
    And she doesn't have to look far. Her granddaughter is a senior biology major at SHU who graduated in May 2011.
    "Now I really have a Siena connection," Judy said. "Due to the philanthropy of friends of Siena Heights, my granddaughter received substantial scholarship assistance."
    Judy, a longtime Adrian resident who has included Siena Heights in her estate plans, said planned giving is a good option.
    "The Siena Heights philosophy, which reaches out with determination and by design to individuals who possibly would not have the opportunity to earn a degree, is most impressive to me," she said. "To see these students learn, grow, achieve, become alumni and then outstanding members of society who make a difference in the world must bring joy beyond measure to their families, mentors and friends."
    Judy's late husband, Larry, was the nephew of a former Siena Heights president, the late Sister Petronilla Francoeur, OP.
    That was the initial connection she and her husband had to Siena Heights, and that connection has only grown stronger since. In fact, Judy is a member of SHU's Heritage Society and will join its Board of Trustees next year.
    "I am certainly committed to the institution and the philosophy that is embraced by the administration," she said. "It is my hope that in supporting Siena Heights University, along with so many others, we are setting an example for those who wish to make gifts in the future."
    To learn more about Planned Giving options at Siena Heights University, please contact the SHU Office of Institutional Advancement at (517) 264-7140, (800) 693-0506 or via e-mail at

It Is Part of Betty Cummings' Nature to Help Others

    The Siena Heights graduate and current member of the Siena Heights University Board of Trustees created the Pat Irwin Scholarship in 1997, which has allowed many Siena Heights students to realize the dream of a college education.
    "I established the scholarship and named it for Pat Irwin as the result of a talk he gave at a President's Cabinet Dinner," Cummings said. "Pat is a volunteer cross-country coach in southwest Detroit (and a Siena Heights alum). It is an extremely poor area and is riddled with gangs. Pat brought some of his athletes with him to the dinner, and each told a little bit about his life. I realized as they spoke that they could not pull themselves up by their boot straps because they did not even have boot straps. I came away from the dinner thinking that they deserved a chance, and I started working on setting up the scholarship. The Irwin Scholarship was set up to help at-risk students receive a
college education."
    Before that speech, Cummings called herself a "brick and mortar" person who did not believe in donating to scholarships. However, she said, "Pat's talk changed my mind completely."
As she thought about how to impact additional students, she decided to designate Siena Heights as a beneficiary on her retirement accounts. She said there are two primary reasons to use a beneficiary designation as a gift vehicle.
    "First, nearly all my assets are in retirement accounts," Cummings said. "They require the naming of a beneficiary. I had always thought of beneficiaries as individuals. However, I realized recently that the charities would not receive any money if I did not name them as beneficiaries. Therefore, I listed each individual and charity as a beneficiary with the percent it should receive. The second reason was because it was taking a long time to set up a trust, and, in case something should happen to me before it was completed, I wanted to make sure that each charity received part of my estate."
    She said there were also tax advantages she did not originally consider.
    "While I did not name charities as beneficiaries because of the tax advantages, it turns out there are some, and the administrative work for my trustee will be less," she said. "The investment companies will make payments directly to the charities, bypassing the income tax return and making less work for my trustee/personal representative. Thus, the charities will receive more money and they will receive it faster."
    Cummings said having a well-educated workforce is vital to the future of our nation. She said she believes in Siena Heights' mission and wants to provide educational opportunities to students who need them most.
    "Siena Heights is willing to take a chance on students who might not be able to attain a college education otherwise," she said. "Ethics is included in many classes, and that is extremely important in all walks of life.
    "My mother always said that people who 'have' have a responsibility to help others," Cummings said. "When I hear stories about students whose lives were turned around as a result of attending Siena Heights, or they were turned around because they received a scholarship so they could attend college, it renews my desire to help."


The materials contained on this website are intended only to show some ways by which you can make a charitable gift or bequest and thereby minimize federal tax liabilities, as authorized by the Internal Revenue Code. All examples are of a general nature only and should not be applied to your specific situation without first consulting your attorney or other advisers.